Against the Odds: Improving Euro Area Commercial Lending Indicators

Over the past several months the European Union has weathered a number of challenges – Brexit, political turmoil, the migrant crisis, and sluggish GDP growth among them. But surprisingly, the latest European Central Bank (ECB) data doesn’t reflect any negative shocks on credit supply and demand.

The latest Euro Area Bank Lending Survey found that competitive pressures are the main factor behind the easing of credit standards on loans to enterprises, including a narrowing of interest rate margins. At the same time, demand for loans by enterprises is increasing, driven by merger and acquisition activities, inventories and working capital, and continued low interest rates. Although demand is strengthening, alternative financing sources dampened demand for bank financing slightly.

Euro Area Bank Lending Survey

Looking at the top half of this chart, there is no question that banks ratcheted up credit standards like pricing, covenants, cash flow, and capital during Europe’s two recessionary periods. At the same time, businesses of all sizes stopped seeking credit. There is just no appetite for companies to take on additional liabilities during a period when consumers aren’t spending and the economy is shrinking.

More recently, in early 2014 both sides of the credit standards and demand equation crossed the middle point. Since then, credit standards have leveled off while credit demand from enterprises has risen slightly, especially for small-to-medium enterprises (SME).

Despite the ups and downs in credit demand and standards, loan outstandings to non-financial corporations has been surprisingly resilient, even during euro area recessionary periods.

ECB Loans to Non-Financial Corporations

The June ECB reflected slight growth over the past quarter, at the end of which the UK voted to leave the European Union. Time will tell whether Brexit and the expected negative impact to eurozone growth will dampen demand and subsequent loan growth for euro area commercial lending.

What MasterCards’ Acquisition of VocaLink might mean

Today, MasterCard announced the acquisition of VocaLink  in the UK.

Before I start I should say I have worked for both organisations, and any comments that I make are mine, and nor am I mentioning anything that isn’t in the public domain.

In some ways the acquisition is surprising, given all that is happening – PSD2, the PSR threatening to fundamentally change VocaLinks ownership and the PSF (it’s payments – never too far from an acronym!) talking about replacing the infrastructure altogether.

It’s easy to think this is perhaps MasterCard re-inserting themselves back into the UK market as since their acquisition of the Switch brand, virtually all the cards have flipped to Visa. I think it’s actually more for three reasons.

Firstly, real-time payments. I’ve written about the charge towards real-time, and VocaLink are well positioned. They operate the UK Faster Payment Service in the UK, and the underlying technology is at the heart of the systems in Singapore, Thailand and The Clearing House in the US. In addition, the market is likely to explode. The ECB said at a recent conference that they expect 60-80% of all SEPA CT transactions to migrate to SEPA Inst. Even at today’s volumes, that’s 12 billion transactions in addition to the UK’s 1 billion. That's volume any processor would be eyeing. Coupled with PSD2, where card volumes may well fall, then is rationale alone for the acquisition.

Secondly, look at electronic payments more broadly. The VocaLink core payments engine is award winning. It was built to win business across Europe in the post-SEPA world, and is capable of handling multiple schemes on the same platform. Indeed, part of Sweden’s transactions run on it to today alongside a very different UK scheme. Imagine now the offering that MasterCard has in say emerging markets – the ability to deliver 100% of electronic payments.

The third is when you bang together some of the technologies of the two businesses. These are ideas, and of course they are far harder than they sound but just think about the possibilities:

– Real-time payments + MasterCard global network = true real-time global ACH;

– ACH/real-time + low value debit transactions = decoupled debit on your own transactions;

– ISO20222 remitance data + VocaLink B2B skills+ MasterCard global network + MasterCard analytics + MasterCard finances = Synegra meets Tungsten Network, but on steroids.

There is much still to find out, and yet more to mull over, but the signs suggest some exciting times ahead.

Faster Than A Speeding Payment: The Race To Real-Time Is Here

It’s been two years since my last reports on real-time payments, and much has happened, not least of which is the perception and understanding the industry has. As a result, the discussions in many countries that don’t have real-time payments infrastructure are now when they will adopt, rather than why would they adopt. Yet in that intervening period, it’s not just the pace of adoption that has accelerated, but that market and thinking around real-time itself has matured as well.

As a result, I’ve just written a new report titled Faster Than A Speeding Payment: The Race To Real-Time Is Here.

Central to the report is the fact that rather than just being “faster ACH”, it is increasing being seen (and should be seen!) as a fundamentally different payment type than anything that has gone before it. As a result, banks, whether they are about to implement their first system or whether an existing user, need to think about where real-time is heading, and to plan accordingly.

This thinking – and more – is set out in the report, and seeks to explore the following questions:

  1. What is the pace of real-time payment adoption?
  2. Why should our bank plan for real-time payments?
  3. What should a bank do regarding real-time payments?

The pace question is clearly indicated in one of the charts from the report:

table

From the 32 countries identified in the initial report (and the criteria we used, which is important!), in 2 years we’ve gone to 42 countries, cross-border systems, and countries who claimed they didn’t see the reason why they would adopt, at least one (the US) is currently reviewing more than 20 systems, all of which might co-exist.

The report goes in to much more detail, but there is a clear implication. Real-time is firmly here, and it’s increasingly being seen as the payment system of the future. Banks that who try to limit the scope of projects today then may be saving themselves money in the short -term, but they are likely to creating more work, more costly work, in the future. Given that most payment networks have a life span measured in decades, it’s a long time to be stuck with a compromise.

Ultimately, however, it’s about building a digital bank as well. Without doing so, banks will be providing the tools to their competitors, yet unable to use them themselves. Adding a real-time solution to a process that takes weeks, such as a bank loan, makes no difference in terms of the proposition. Fintechs are able to use a real-time payment as the enabling element of a digital experience because all of the solution set is real-time – an instant decision and payment of the loan sum is a game changer.

Digital payments without a digital bank would seem futile.

Brexit. Eventually. Possibly.

What did Britain say to its trade partners?

See EU later.

It’s been a funny week or two to say the least, so it seemed apposite to start with a joke (and we’re not talking about the England vs Iceland result! – the Icelandic commentator is worth a 30sec listen.)

The UK woke up to find that it was leaving Europe. Given the legendary British reserve, stiff upper lip, etc., it is quite incredible just how divided the country has become, and how everyone has an opinion. As a result, there has been a lot said before, during and after the campaign that needs to be sifted very carefully. This is a genuine attempt at a factual look at quite what this means as many of the facts are very definitely not facts.

What's actually going to happen? Frankly, the short answer is nobody actually knows. No country has ever left before. Greenland did but is both smaller and was leaving for other reasons. Nor did they invoke Article 50 (more of which in a second) which has never been used. Whilst there are some legal guidelines and processes, given that the European Union is an economic union governed by politicians, it’s fair to say that the process will be very political in nature. Particularly as Article 50 is not very precise.

The first step is for the UK to activate Article 50 which effectively formally starts the process. The UK has two years from informing the European Parliament that it intends to leave and actually signing article 50. Given other European elections, and despite some public calls from Europe to get on with it, some believe that it is likely to be later rather than sooner.

Until Article 50 is signed, the UK is still in Europe, and everything continues as they do today. What is less clear is when Article 50 is signed, what happens next, and how long the process will take. UK Government analyst suggests 5 years, yet others say at least a decade.

Nor is it yet clear what the UK will choose to negotiate on. For example, it may choose, voluntarily to adopt regulation such as PSD2. We (or, to be clear, Gareth) believe that the UK will push ahead with the PSD2, as many of the rules are either in place in the UK already, or reflect the way the Government is thinking e.g. the Open Data Initiative arguably is far wider reaching that the Access to Accounts element of the PSD2.

It’s not clear quite what is or isn’t the European Union necessarily. For example, passporting, the rule that allows financial services firms to be licenced in one country and operate in another, is actually (according to the Bank of England website at leastother reputable sites even disagree on this!), an European Economic Area (EEA) initiative, and even countries outside of the EEA, such as Switzerland, have negotiated deals. This is particularly key for card acquirers, many of whom use their UK licence to negate the need for local ones across Europe.

So, as they saying goes, the devil will be in the detail. And that’s going to take time to unravel, and to negotiate even on the things that need negotiating.

Over the coming months, banks will need to scenario plan on multiple dimensions. They will need to identify key regulations that impact their business, how that might be regulated, and how long it would take the bank to respond. Yet many, if not most banks, will have done some of this risk profiling before the vote took place.

Until there is clarity, the reality is that it’s the political fall-out is going to have the most impact in the short-term, itself creating a degree of additional economic turmoil.

External Forces Affecting Global Transaction Flows: Is the Payments World Becoming Flatter?

In his 2005 book titled The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, New York Times reporter and author Thomas Friedman famously wrote about the impact of technology on globalization, the result of which is a truly global economy with unprecedented flows of investments, goods, and ideas. This trend has continued, despite the global recession that followed a few years after his book was published. 

In contrast, corporate treasurers have seen little “flattening” of cross-border payment processing since SWIFT was introduced in the 1970s, with the exception of intra-EC euro-denominated payments. The reality is that even in 2016, most cross-border payments have several critical elements of uncertainty about them. And it's not just about moving the money more efficiently:  increasingly the focus is on how to improve the transparency and speed of payment information.

But it is important to recognize that the global banking system (including SWIFT) is not the only influence on cross-border payments. As corporate treasury organizations make tactical and strategic decisions about how to effectively make and receive payments across borders, they must take into consideration a wide range of external forces.

External Forces

Economic instability and geo-political conditions are categories of external forces that corporate treasurers need to take into account when moving funds across borders, not only in the immediate term but when considering the longer term strategic impact on instability on trading corridors and growth markets. Yesterday's historic "Brexit" vote by the citizens of the United Kingdom to exit the European Union is the perfect example of how geo-political instability has both an immediate impact on cross border payments in terms of the impact on FX rates but also on the longer term prospects for trade, foreign investment and the movement of people across borders. It will be many months, perhaps years, before the impact is fully understood.

Industry initiatives leveraging technology advances to improve cross border payment processing are playing a larger role than ever before as global adoption of SEPA elements becomes a reality, new regional payment networks and real time cross border payment solutions are being developed and alternative payment providers are offering solutions to some of the longest standing corporate complaints about traditional cross border payment processing.

Finally, demographic trends such as uneven population growth, migration and the rise of the digital natives will all have long term implications for how corporate treasury moves money and information across borders.

Celent's recently published report on this topic Following the Money: External Forces Affecting Global Transaction Flows includes some of the key data trends related to these external forces that are critical for corporate treasurers to understand and to continue to evaluate as they develop a plan for future proofing their payment environments. The report also includes recommendations for how treasury organizations should collaborate with their transaction banking partners to ensure that cross border payment processing and the delivery of payment information is optimized as the global payments landscape changes.  This report and the webinar on the same topic was produced as part of a series sponsored by HSBC on topics relevant to corporate treasury.

following-the-money_Page_01

 

EBAday 2016: A Brave New World for Payments

EBAday 2016 LogoHosted by the European Banking Association and Finextra, EBAday attracts payments professionals from leading financial institutions and technology providers. This year’s event was held in Milan Italy with the theme, “A Brave New World for Payments.” Sessions focused on the dilemma facing the payments industry – enhancing existing payment models while preparing for alternative payments and technology.

I had the honor of moderating day two’s strategic roundtable discussing future challenges and opportunities for banks. The panelists were Paolo Cederle, CEO, UniCredit business integrated solutions; Christophe Chazot, group head of innovation, HSBC; and Damian Pettit, RBS head of payment operations.

EBAday 2016 Day Two Panel

The panelists felt that there is a disconnect between the limitations of legacy bank infrastructure and the promise of new technologies. With the majority of bank IT budgets spent on maintenance, the challenge is for banks to keep existing systems running while investing in the future. For customers, there is too much complexity, especially in cross-border payments, and customers want an easy experience at minimal cost.

Discussing Faster Payments in the UK, the panelists said the introduction eight years ago has revolutionized payments, completely changing customer behavior and paving the way for new mobile-based services such as Paym, the UK’s mobile payments service offered by seventeen banks and building societies. For countries having implemented immediate payments, real-time is the new norm and with that comes expectation and demand from customers.

With the EU PSD2 payment services provisions looming on the horizon, the discussion turned to the prospect of disintermediation of banks by third-party providers. The panelists were optimistic about the future, and feel that the regulation is helping to steer the banks toward new initiatives and innovation in services, and is a great opportunity to better service customers and push banks up the value chain.

Regarding the question of whether emerging payment models and technology represent an escalating threat, the response was that instant payments brings security challenges. But the panelists overwhelmingly agreed that convenience and speed cannot come at the cost of security–safety and security is absolutely paramount.

The discussion then moved onto the theme of disruption — are payments in a revolutionary or evolutionary phase? The panelists felt it was a bit of both. Revolutionary technologies such mobile and artificial intelligence are pushing payments along an evolutionary path. And banks have an advantage. The Fintech startups entering the market don't have the direct customer interaction and track record that banks have in safety and security. The banks are running hackathons and open to working with startups while improving legacy systems and simplifying the customer proposition.

All of the panelists’ banks are members of the R3 blockchain consortium. Blockchain is bringing a new way of working together for banks and technology providers. Each of the panelists is watching the technology closely and one area of opportunity cited was the last mile of the payments chain and in the trade finance arena.

My take-away from the roundtable was that the global payments industry is transforming. The “brave new world” is one with an imperative to be nimble, keeping your eye on all of the opportunities both for existing payment models as well as alternative technologies. Collaboration is key whether through acquisitions, consortiums, partnerships or open source projects.

A Tale of Two Cities (Conference Season)

Spring is usually the season for conference travel, and this season has been no exception.  While my colleagues were spread out across the US covering conferences in Boston, New Orleans, and other locations, I spent four days in beautiful Barcelona covering the Temenos TCF 2016 Conference, followed by another three days in sunny Orlando covering the FIS Connect 2016 Conference.  The fine warm weather was not the only thing that these two conferences had in common, as Temenos and FIS each took the opportunity to showcase their recent investments in new enabling technologies.

Barcelona

In Barcelona, CEO David Arnott kicked off TCF 2016 — themed Solutions For a Connected World — by examining the Company's strategic expansion from what has traditionally been a narrow focus on banking software.  Temenos's transition to its broader focus on financial services was signaled by its acquisition in March, 2015 of Multifonds, a provider of software and services to the third-party fund administration business that supplies many of the large players in the fund administration market, including large global FIs like JP Morgan, Citigroup, BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse.

David Arnett TCF2016

Temenos's strategic expansion makes sense in that its flagship core banking platform T24 has traditionally been aimed at the universal banking market, so fund administration represents somewhat of a contiguous market for them.  Speaking of T24, I was a bit surprised at how far T24's re-architecture has come, with John Schlesinger (Chief Enterprise Architect) sharing that an architectural overhaul of T24 will be complete by Release 17 (the solution is currently on R15).

By the time R17 is complete next year, T24 will have been refactored to create a series of frameworks that will facilitate customization of the platform by client banks, allow easier integration with third-party services, and make the transactional data held by T24 more accessible for data analytics.  While most of the work here was under the hood and did not impact T24's existing features and functionality, the overhaul was much needed to expand the solution's reach into larger banks, where architectural flexibility is very important.

The T24 overhaul appears to have already borne fruit, with the Swedish retail bank Nordea Bank signing up last September to implement T24 across its regional base of 10.8 million retail and 500,000 corporate customers in several Nordic countries.  Clearly one of the benefits of the architectural upgrade is to improve T24's run-time performance, and John shared that T24 has been benchmarked to support 40 million accounts within an end-of-month processing window of only 2 hours and 56 minutes — an impressive result given that T24 operates on IBM's pSeries server running Windows or Linux, not on the mainframe systems that continues to dominate within large banks.

Orlando

In Orlando, the theme of FIS Connect 2016 was Empowering the [Financial] World, and it was clear that FIS hopes to leverage some of the new products and technologies from SunGard last November in enhancing the traditional banking and payments offerings aimed into the larger banks that were in attendance.  (FIS's community banks had their own conference called InfoShare back in April.)

Gary Norcross FIS Connect 2016

While traditional cash management products like CashExpress (data exchange in support of cash concentration activities) had their familiar place on the Connect 2016 exhibit hall, new services like Ambit Treasury Management for bank treasury departments and FIS's new SWIFT Service bureau offering rounded out the already comprehensive set of solutions FIS has assembled for the corporate banking needs of its clients.

Fiserv drove consolidation in the bank technology outsourcing market in the 1980s and 1990s before handing the baton to FIS in the new millennium, starting with the acquisition of Alltel Information Services in 2003 and continuing with the addition of Metavante Corporation in 2009 and SunGard in 2015.  With each acquisition, FIS has generated financial and operational synergies aimed at creating shareholder value, so it was interesting to see how FIS's now multi-year enterprise technology initiative is now beginning to create technological synergies for the benefit of its bank clients.

The exhibit hall showcased some of the first fruits of FIS's program to create new technologies that can support its bank clients across the range of core banking platforms, from the community banking oriented platforms like Horizon and BancPac to larger bank systems like IBS and Systematics.  FIS's Enterprise Customer Experience suite and the new version of its TouchPoint sales and service platform (supporting the branch and call center) were both built to be core platform agnostic and both represent a functional upgrade from the "native" CIF/CIM and sales/service modules associated with FIS's individual core platforms.

By creating new functional upgrades on an enterprise basis rather than through individual core platform enhancements, FIS is hoping to get more bang for its R&D buck, push out new product enhancements to its bank clients more quickly,  and redeploy precious IT funding into long-term banking service innovation.  Even ten years ago, FIS's strategy would have been inhibited by the relatively inflexible programming tools available to bank IT developers.  Today, with the advent of micro-services and standardized banking APIs, FIS has learned that product and services differentiation can finally be made compatible with a single code base.

That looks to be a win-win for FIS and its clients, but as with all things in life execution is key as the enterprise technology initiative grows in scope to cover other important parts of the banking IT system.  Stay tuned!

 

Blockchain: Beware the Hype

At Celent, we just published a new research report with the same title as this blog – Blockchain: Beware the Hype. Why such a title? Isn't blockchain the coolest technology out there at the moment?

It is. At Celent, we firmly believe that blockchains and other shared ledger platforms will be a powerful catalyst for change in financial services and other industries for many years to come. There are some very promising use cases, particularly in cross-border payments, corporate banking, and capital markets, and even outside of financial services, in identity management, trade logistics, healthcare, and many other sectors. Even if “blockchain” ends up being a small component of the ultimate solutions, it facilitates new thinking that forces organisations to reimagine how they work, both internally and externally. And that can only be a good thing.

However, we do caution against succumbing to the hype, which is inevitable for any new exciting technologies. Blockchain hype is particularly acute, given the complexities of the underlying technologies. Nobody wants to be left behind when proclaiming the benefits of blockchain, but not everybody truly understands how those benefits can be achieved.

Luckily, the investment going into shared ledger technologies is resulting in a growing number of individuals and organisations lending their collective resources to explore deeply how financial services can benefit from these technologies. Their efforts are directed at exploring practical use cases (e.g. Everledger, Ripple, Shocard), developing new technology and tools (e.g. Ethereum, Intel, Multichain) and building out infrastructure for blockchain initiatives (e.g. IBM, Microsoft), with a number of firms engaged across the board. And the collaborative efforts such as the Hyperledger project or R3 are also bearing fruit – for example, R3 recently announced Corda, a new distributed ledger platform specifically designed for financial services.

We do think that is the way forward: thinking carefully about suitability of technology for the business problem at hand, and deconstructing blockchain technology to its fundamental components only to assemble the most attractive features in a way that makes sense for financial services. That is what will ultimately help us all move beyond the hype.

Celent research clients can access the full report here.

Top trends in corporate banking webinar

Please join me on Thursday, April 21st at noon EST for an overview of the 2016 edition of our Top Trends in Corporate Banking report, which was published in March.

2016-04-18_15-40-50

Corporate banks continue to place an enormous focus on investing in digital channels to meet the ever-increasing demands of clients for enhanced tools while boosting security and fraud prevention. Despite this investment, corporate banking has lagged in terms of adoption of innovative technologies. To improve that performance, corporate banking lines of business are undertaking a broad set of initiatives to overcome the inertia that has left clients behind in terms of innovation. Among the top trends, we will examine the opportunities in trade finance and customer onboarding for improving efficiency and enhancing client satisfaction.  Other top trends include fintech partnerships, distributed ledger technology and open APIs and adapting liquidity management strategies.  I look forward to having you join us on Thursday! 

Click here to register

 

 

 

Congratulations to Celent Model Bank 2016 Winners!

Last week many of us at Celent were in New York attending our Innovation and Insight Day on April 13th. It is Celent's flagship event during which we announce Model Bank and Model Insurer winners and celebrate their achievements. In addition, the program includes keynote speeches from industry leaders and Celent analysts, plenty of opportunities to network with peers, and even to experience some of the latest technologies first hand, courtesy of our sponsors.

The theme of this year's event was "Financial Services Reborn", and the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street provided an inspiring setting to celebrate innovation in financial services. Craig Weber, Celent CEO, kicked off the proceedings drawing insightful parallels between the battle of Alamo and the future of financial services. It must have been the first time in Craig's career that he had to come up on stage to the soundtrack of hip hop music, an extract from the Broadway musical "Hamilton", but it set the tone for the rest of the day – to expect the unexpected and to be open to new ideas.

Both of our guest speakers – Nadeem Shaikh, Co-Founder and CEO of Anthemis Group, and Leanne Kemp, Founder and CEO of Everledger – thrilled the audience and opened everyone's eyes to the opportunities presented by Fintech and Blockchain respectively, while our colleague Will Trout spoke eloquently about consumer-led convergence. A big 'thank you' to all the speakers, as well as the sponsors supporting the event!

The rest of the day was all about celebrating the achievements of Model Bank and Model Insurance award winners. As many of this blog's readers know, the vision for Celent’s Model Bank research, now in its ninth year, is to spotlight effective uses of technology in banking. This year we received a record number of submissions – well over 100 – that came from all over the world; the nominations were spread equally between North America, EMEA and APAC. The award winners come from four continents and nine countries and range from credit unions and microfinance institutions to the world's largest banks.

Celent Model Bank 2016 winners are:

  Model Bank 2016 Categories

  Award Winners

  1. Digital Banking Transformation

  Citizens Bank, US

  DenizBank, Turkey

  Garanti Bank, Turkey

  Santander, US

  2. Omnichannel Banking

  BECU, US

  Beyond Bank, Australia

  Standard Chartered Bank, Korea

  3. Digital Payments and Cards

  Bank of America Merrill Lynch, US

  RBC, Canada

  4. Corporate Payments and Infrastructure Modernization

  Bank of China, China

  CBW Bank, US

  5. Cash Management and Trade Finance

  CIBC, Canada

  HBL (Habib Bank), Pakistan

  6. Security, Fraud, and Risk Management

  Alfa-Bank, Russia

  USAA, US

  7. Legacy Transformation

  Sberbank, Russia

  Umpqua Bank, US

  Vietnam Bank For Social Policies, Vietnam

  Model Bank of the Year

  Eastern Bank, US

As always, we published a series of reports with detailed case studies of all winning initiatives. Celent research subscription clients can access the Model Bank of the Year and individual category reports via our website.

This year we also introduced a new award, Model Bank Vendor. We wanted to acknowledge the vendor role in helping multiple clients achieve technology or implementation excellence, one of our judging criteria, and to extend our appreciation to the entire vendor community, which is instrumental in the ongoing success of the Model Bank program. Celent recognized two companies as Model Bank Vendors for 2016:

  • EdgeVerve Systems
  • Nucleus Software

Congratulations to all our award winners! We are grateful to have been exposed to so many extraordinary initiatives and the talented individuals responsible for their success. We look forward to continuing with the Model Bank program next year to identify and award the most impressive banking technology initiatives from around the world, and will begin accepting nominations again in September – stay tuned!